Friday, 25 February 2011

“Encouraging Words” by BILLY PRESTON. A Review Of 2nd Album For The Beatles Apple Records (1970) – Now Reissued Onto A 2010 Extended CD.

"…Learn To Live The Golden Rule…Don’t You Go Through Life Being A Fool…"

BILLY PRESTON [featuring George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Madeline Bell, Doris Troy, Delaney Bramlett, Members of The Temptations and Edwin Hawkins Singers] - “Encouraging Words” (2010 Apple Expanded CD - Guy Massey, Steve Rookes, Phil Hicks and Simon Gibson Remasters)

"Encouraging Words" was the second and last album on Apple Records for long-time friend and sometimes collaborator with The Beatles - American keyboardist and Soul Singer Billy Preston. And along with his excellent debut LP the year before (1969's "That's The Way God Planned It") - it's not just one of the labels better offerings, it's a criminally forgotten Seventies Soul-Rock gem - and arguably the best album of his long and distinguished career.

UK released 25 October 2010 - Apple 5099990823923 (Barcode 5099990823923) breaks down as follows (54:44 minutes):

1. Right Now
2. Little Girl
3. Use What You’ve Got
4. My Sweet Lord
5. Let The Music Play
6. The same Thing Again
7. I’ve Got A Feeling
8. Sing One For The Lord
9. When You Are Mine
10. I Don’t Want To Pretend
11. Encouraging Words
12. All Things (Must) Pass
13. You’ve Been Acting Strange
Tracks 1 to 13 are the LP "Encouraging Words" released 11 September 1970 in the UK on Apple SAPCOR 14 (Stereo only) and on Apple ST-3370 in the USA.

14. As Long As I Got My Baby
15. All That I Got (I’m Gonna Give It To You)
16. How Long Has The Train Been Gone

Notes: Tracks 14 and 15 are the 2 bonus tracks given with the 1993 reissue - "As Long As I Got My Baby" (a Preston original) and "All That I Got (I'm Gonna Give It To You)" (a co-wrote with Doris Troy). "As Long As I Got My Baby" was intended to be the B-side of Preston's version of "My Sweet Lord" on Apple 29 (scheduled for September 1970 release in the UK), but was withdrawn. All That I Got (I'm Gonna Give It To You)" was co-produced with GEORGE HARRISON and released as a 7" single on 30 January 1970 in the UK on Apple 21. It's B-side "As I Get Older" is on the "That's The Way God Planned It" CD reissue as a bonus (track 14) - both songs were non-album at the time of release.

Track 16 is a new bonus for this 2010 issue - the previously unreleased fully formed song - "How Long Has the Train Been Gone". It was co-written with Bruce Fisher, recorded in January 1970 and then later re-recorded for Preston's 1973 album on A&M Records - "Everybody Loves Some Kind Of Music" (he would also re-record "When You Were Mine" for his 1976 A&M album "Billy Preston").

Noted writer and music lover ANDY DAVIS does the new liner notes for the disappointingly weedy 12-page booklet (EMI pushes the boat out again people). But with what little text he has been afforded, Davis does at least fill it with properly informative details - and it's peppered with some very tasty full-page colour photos of Preston from the time. No UK singles were issued around the record (possibly why it disappeared so quick), but there is a full-page reproduction of an advert for the American single of "My Sweet Lord" on Apple 1826 (it also names Radio Stations supporting the song).

The cast is impressive (if not a little vague) - GEORGE HARRISON co-produced the entire album with Preston, ERIC CLAPTON played guitar on 3 tracks - "Right Now", "Use What You Got" and "Encouraging Words". RINGO STARR and KLAUS VOORMAN are said to be on Drums and Bass respectively, while DELANEY BRAMLETT also plays guitar on "Encouraging Words" with Eric. The Rhythm Section for THE TEMPTATIONS are on there (Bass, Guitarist, Drums) while members of SAM and DAVE'S band played Drums and Bass too. Both MADELINE BELL and DORIS TROY provided beautiful soulful backing vocals (Doris Troy's lone album on Apple "Doris Troy" was released the week earlier - 4 September 1970) while the EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS are on "My Sweet Lord" and "Sing One For The Lord".

Six of the 13 are Billy Preston originals with "My Sweet Lord" and "All Things (Must) Pass" being George Harrison compositions. "Let The Music Play", "The Same Thing Again" and "Sing One For The Lord" are co-writes with Jesse Kirkland, James Herndon and George Harrison respectively. Which leaves two cover versions - The Beatles' "I've Got A Feeling" and "You've Been Acting Strange" by Ronnie Lee Williams (also covered by Merry Clayton on her 1970 "Gimme Shelter" album). Unlike some of the other Apple issues, there are no extra tracks via download. But the really big news is the SOUND...

The same team that handled the much-praised 09/09/09 Beatles remasters have done this - GUY MASSEY, STEVE ROOKES, PHIL HICKS and SIMON GIBSON. I always thought the initial 1993 reissue was dull-as-dishwater soundwise - well not so now because the audio quality here is BEAUTIFUL - a massive improvement. It also makes you reassess a lot of the songs and appreciate more Harrison's excellent production contributions.

"Right On" is a superb opener and sets the tone for the overall funky feel of the album (surely it would have been a hit single). "When You Are Mine" is a sweetheart too as is "Use What You Got" (with great wah-wah guitar from Clapton). Very cool stuff. Conversely - the two most famous 'early versions' of Harrison classics "My Sweet Lord" and "All Things (Must) Pass" are the ones that work the least well for me. Not so the stunning blues-soul of "The Same Thing Again" co-written with the noted Gospel singer James Herndon - it's a monster. It had customers coming to the counter in our shop wanting to know which 'Ray Charles' tune we were playing (praise indeed).

"Encouraging Words" is a brilliantly brassy dancer with a message for the 'kids' to be kind, stay in school and don't get suckered (lyrics above). It really is so good. The brass, the great production and the remaster combine to fill your room with superlative soul-funk. But for me the absolute dog's undercarriage is the fabulous Beatles-meets-Gospel "Sing One For The Lord" - Preston's huge organ playing combines with the choir feel of the backing vocals, George's meaty guitar riff and a lingering Sitar-sounding instrument called the Indian Tamboura which floats over the whole thing - it's a stunning cross-pollination of cultures and music and as close to post-Beatles magic as you can get.

Although a little hissy - the new song "How Long Has The Train Been Gone" is a slow soulful gem - it's fantastic - I can't believe its been lingering in vaults all these years. And like the new bonus track "Something's Got To Change" on the "That's The Way God Planned It" CD reissue (see separate review) - it's that rarest thing, a genuine must-have bonus track.

Niggles - the gatefold card sleeve is nice to look at for sure, but the booklet and overall packaging feel lightweight (what EMI could get away with). The CD should have one of those gauze inner bags to protect it - a problem that no record company seems to want to acknowledge (scuffing and damage). They're minor points I know, but worth making...

To sum up - I've loved rehearing this forgotten peach of an album in this hugely improved sound quality - Seventies Soul lovers 'need' to discover this great record. I'm also reminded of crying uncontrollably when I saw Billy Preston play "Isn't It A Pity" live with Eric Clapton and that fantastic band at the "Concert For George" in The Royal Albert Hall in 2002 - magical. Too many losses man...remember them and him this way...

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